The rise of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea in the last few months has resulted in a global crisis that calls for a global humanitarian response, a United Nations human rights expert urged today.
“This requires a new and concerted strategic approach by European States and the international community,” said François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, at the end of his follow-up official visit to Italy.
According to the statement released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Mr. Crépeau was in the country to assess new developments since his first visit in 2012.
Mr. Crépeau, who praised Italy’s extraordinary efforts through its Mare Nostrum operation, urged the European Union and the wider international community “to consider immediate options, such as supporting Italy in a robust search and rescue operations and, together with other global North States, providing a significant resettlement program for refugees.”
The operation, established by the Italian Government in 2013, aims to tackle the dramatic increase of migratory flows during the second half of the year and consequent tragic ship wreckages off the island of Lampedusa.
“In 2014, Italy has saved the lives of over 150,000 people who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the lives of children, men and women – sometimes pregnant. Without such an extraordinary effort, these people would be dead,” he noted.
“However, Italy’s operation to save lives has had to withstand criticism and lack of financial or human assistance from other European States.”
“The Italian Government has been bold in its response to this humanitarian crisis, because not only have they been in the business of saving lives, but they have also had to do it alone and weather the storm of internal dissent which was sceptical about devoting 9 million Euros a month to the search and rescue operation at a time of high unemployment and economic crisis,” he said.
The Special Rapporteur noted that migrants and asylum seekers are fleeing conflict, violence and poor governance in search of a better life for themselves and their families. “More people are arriving at Europe’s borders because they rather risk their own death at sea or that of their children than to stay in their own country or in countries of transit,” he said.
Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation is coming to an end because of lack of funds and support from other countries in Europe. It will be replaced by EU Frontex operation Triton, which will be limited to defending Italy’s maritime border.
“The fear is that, next summer, without an operation like Mare Nostrum, thousands of people will die. Turning a blind eye isn’t a solution: people will continue to cross and, because of Europe’s inaction, to die,” he warned.
“Europe should actively support search and rescue operations, offer facilitated family reunification within Europe and share the number of asylum claims among all European States,” he stated.
Mr. Crépeau also urged Italy to provide increased protection to unaccompanied minors through improved best interest of the child determination procedures, and facilitate access to justice, by simplifying judicial procedures and providing low-cost quality legal representation.
The Special Rapporteur stressed the need to bring to justice unscrupulous smugglers for the suffering they inflict on migrants and asylum seekers, but warned that “Europe will find it difficult to defeat resourceful and adaptable smuggling rings, unless it destroys their business model, which was created when barriers and prohibitions were erected and which thrives at evading restrictive migration policies of many EU Member States.”
“If Europe is to witness a significant reduction of human suffering at borders, it must bank on regulated openness and mobility. Otherwise the number of migrants risking their lives on unseaworthy vessels over perilous sea routes can only increase,” the expert said.
During his four-day follow-up visit, Mr. Crépeau met with Government officials responsible for border management, international organisations, civil society organisations and migrant organisations, to discuss the complex management of the common European border in Italy.
A follow-up country mission report and a thematic report on EU border management will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.
“No matter which way we look at it, the situation comes down to one thing: migrants are human beings and, just like the rest of us, they too have rights. They too have the right to live and thrive,” Mr. Crépeau underscored.